Transcript of The Associated Press’ interview with Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., recorded Nov. 7, 2017, in Washington:
AP: Hi, I’m Julie Pace, Washington bureau chief for The Associated Press and thanks for joining us for AP Newsmakers. I’m happy to be joined here today by Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Thanks for being with us.
AP: A lot going on in your world today. I’m joined by a great crowd of AP journalists here who are going to help me dig into this. But we really want to hear from you, as well, so please make sure to submit some of your questions for the congressman on Facebook and we’ll try to get a few of those in during our discussion here. So congressman, we’re approaching the one year anniversary of the 2016 presidential election — still very much in the news. Do you think that Donald Trump is president today because Russia interfered in the election?
SCHIFF: I think it’s really impossible to say, you know, in an election that close, whether any particular thing was decisive. So you could say everything was decisive. Certainly Donald Trump felt the Russian interference was very significant because he would trumpet the WikiLeaks disclosures just about every day on the campaign trail I think in total 140 odd times. So there’s certainly one person who thought that what the Russians had produced by way of stolen emails was very significant. But I don’t think we can ever say definitively that, you know, but for the Russian intervention the election would have gone one way or another. You could also say that frankly about Jim Comey’s late comments about his investigation, could have been decisive. You could say that about where Hillary Clinton spent her time campaigning.
But I do think that the administration has made an effort to conflate two different things to confuse the public. And sadly we have seen our own CIA director do the same thing and that is the fact that we have seen no evidence that the Russians tampered with the vote count within the machines is not the same thing as saying that the intelligence community has found that there was no effect on the outcome of the election. Those are two very different things. And of course the intelligence community very explicitly said, “We make no, expressed no opinion on whether this affected the outcome of the election, that’s beyond our scope.”
AP: Based on what you’ve seen, do you think that the interference had some effect, whether it was the deciding factor or not, that it had some effect on the outcome of the election.
SCHIFF: I think it unquestionably had it, had an influence on the election. It influenced the election by millions and millions of Americans seeing Russian content on social media pushed out by the Kremlin. It had an effect in that the Russians were dumping emails that forced Hillary Clinton on a daily basis to have to defend herself and the campaign, and it changed the topic of the conversation on the campaign trail. But again the very best proof that the Trump campaign viewed the Russian interference as influential is the fact that the president used it as a central part of his campaign speeches on a daily basis.
AP: Obviously a lot of what your committee is looking at, the Senate committee, and Mueller is focused on is potential connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. But just to say, take a step back and look at the fact that Russia was interfering in our election, one year later, do you feel like the country, either at the federal government level, the state government level or at these tech companies is any better prepared to try to prevent that same level of interference in a future election than we were last year?
SCHIFF: You know we are marginally better prepared in the sense that we are forearmed with the knowledge that the Russians interfered and they may do it again. The tech companies are on notice. They’re developing a mechanism to ferret that out. Now the Russians will be more clever in how they hide their hand the next time around. But the one area where we have made no progress is probably the most important area and that is the Russians are a very capable cyber adversary. And if they decide in 2020 that they’re going to get into the DNC, they’re going to get in. If they decide they want to get into the RNC, they’re going to get in. There’s no cyber patch for this. The best defense is developing a bipartisan national consensus that, whoever helps or whoever hurts, if a foreign party like the Russians interfere in our election we will all condemn it. We didn’t have that bipartisan consensus in the last election. We’d better have it the next time around. The single greatest impediment to getting to that consensus is the president of the United States who refuses to admit it even happened and to this day, this day, calls it a hoax and a witch hunt. So he is, I think, quite deliberately for his own reasons preventing the country from coming together around a defense to further Russian meddling.
AP: And is it just Russia that we should be worried about? I mean you’re the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, you see a lot of information. Is it just Russia that we should worry about in terms of election interference?
SCHIFF: No. You know I think that the cat is out of the bag. You’re going to see other countries do the same thing. Now, you’ll see some try and meddle in our elections. It may not just be the Russians, the Iranians or others may also try. But you’ll also see, I fear, an effort by other countries to interfere in the elections of their neighbors, so you might see Pakistan interfering in elections in India, interfere in Pakistani elections. We’ve already seen indications reportedly that the Saudis or others were behind a hack of Qatar’s crawler feed that resulted in a big breach within the GCC. So you’re going to see more cyber means of influencing elections and stirring up controversies, discrediting opponents. You’ll see intervention in Spain in terms of secessionist movements there and in Europe and elsewhere. So just as we saw in Brexit, that this is unfortunately a genie that will not be put back in the bottle.
AP: Really fascinating development from your committee last night. You released the seven-hour transcript of testimony from Carter Page who was one of the members of this foreign policy advisory committee. Really interesting to read. I’m curious what stood out to you? Is there a moment in that testimony that you think changes the equation on this investigation? Will push you in a different direction here?
SCHIFF: Well a few things stood out. First, it was apparent right from the very beginning of the hearings that what Carter Page had been saying, would say publicly, was completely at odds with what he would later testify to and the documentary evidence that we were already in possession of. So publicly, even up to two days before coming before Congress, he was saying that when he went to Russia it was as a private citizen, he had no meetings of any consequence, it was basically talking to your man on the street. But as now has been revealed when we released the transcript, he met with people as high as the deputy prime minister of Russia.
AP: Which he’s denied previously.
SCHIFF: Which he denied previously, even at the very beginning of his interview I asked him, “Did you have any private conversations, any private meetings with Russian government officials? No absolutely not.” But he sends a memo back to the campaign, which in itself is significant because he was claiming this was a private trip, sends a memo saying that in a private conversation basically that I had with the deputy prime minister and others in the presidential administration and members of the Duma, I gained important insight and outreach that I want to share with the campaign. Completely at odds with what he’d been saying publicly.
The other thing that I think is very significant is you have Carter Page approached by a professor at a Russian university saying basically, once he’s become a Trump foreign policy adviser or one of them, “We want you to come to Russia. We’ll pay your expenses.” And then whatever meetings he has while he’s there.
Almost simultaneously you have another professor approaching George Papadopoulos, who suddenly has an interest in George Papadopoulos because he is now a foreign policy adviser to the campaign. That professor puts him in touch with other links to the Russian government. So you have these two efforts in parallel going on with just two of these advisers. You have them both reporting back to the campaign, you have the campaign deceiving the public about their knowledge of these things. So I hardly think that these are coincidental.
AP: Do you feel like you have clarity both with Papadopoulos and Carter Page on how high up the food chain in the campaign the information that they had was going? Because both of them, if we’re being honest, were not senior policy advisers, they were not in Trump Tower every day. But do you have a sense of who in the campaign was receiving information from them?
SCHIFF: Well we do, because we can see who he sent, in the case of Cater Page, who he sent the memo back to in Washington D.C., you know these people are the recipients of it. He’s testified that he told Mr. Clovis about it, that he told Jeff Sessions about his trip. And I think you know we see more and more pictures of the puzzle now coming together. And of course these things are not in isolation from the meeting in Trump Tower.
In April, George Papadopoulos is told that the Kremlin is in possession of thousands of Hillary Clinton emails. Now that’s before I think even most of the campaign is aware that the Russians have possession of this. Some of the campaign may know they’ve been hacked but aren’t really sure yet who has hacked them. So the Trump campaign finds out really before most of the Clinton campaign finds out that the Russians are in possession of these stolen emails. And then you have this meeting in Trump Tower where the Trump campaign as a campaign is already aware that Russia has dirt on Hillary Clinton in the form of the emails. They take this meeting with three of their top people at a critical time in the campaign when Trump is just about to sew up the nomination and where the most precious commodity you have, as a campaign, is the time of your top people. But all of them felt it was worth their time to take this meeting with the promise of dirt.
Now shortly after that meeting where they made clear really two things, if you believe what they’ve said, and that’s another problem. But one is that they told the Russians they would love to have help. And the second is they’re disappointed with what’s produced at the meeting. And then very shortly thereafter you see the first indications from WikiLeaks that they have received the stolen emails. And you see the publication of these emails. So the question is, was it communicated to the campaign that the method of their providing the dirt was not going to be necessarily giving it directly to the campaign but was going to be publishing it through Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks and WikiLeaks. That’s the picture that is really emerging here.
AP: I am going to turn to three of my colleagues in a minute, but let me ask you, when you get to the end of your committee’s investigation, are you confident that you will be able to say definitively that there was collusion, coordination between the Trump campaign in Russia or that there was not, that there will be a definitive answer for Americans on that question?
SCHIFF: I think we’ll be able to tell the Americans, the American people, just what we found. Here are the facts that we’ve been able to establish. We don’t expect that the Kremlin is going to send us a witness to say, OK, here’s where we started the program, here’s how we interpreted what we heard from the Trump campaign, this was the decision that we made. They’re not going to cooperate with us. So part of what you have to do in a case where you have a foreign party who is not cooperative is you have to lay out the facts you are able to establish and you’re able to say, OK, this event followed right after this event which followed right after this event. We can deduce from this fact that this also follows from that. So we will be able to share that evidence with the public. Now, I think part of what the president is trying to do is disparage the congressional investigations, disparage Bob Mueller, disparage all of you in the free press, so that no matter what is produced he can say it’s a fake. And we are now so polarized and Balkanized, people that want to believe it’s a fake may believe it’s a fake. But nonetheless our obligation is to do a thorough investigation and share what we can with the public so that the public can draw its conclusions. Bob Mueller, for his part, needs to figure out what he can prove beyond a reasonable doubt. And it looks like he’s making a lot of progress.
AP: I want to get back to Bob Mueller in a couple minutes, but I’m going to throw it to some of my colleagues here: Chad Day.
AP: Thanks for doing this, I appreciate it. Currently, you mentioned polarization among the American public has gotten worse and trust in institutions is under constant attack and, as you mentioned, at times from the president himself. Given that, is it even possible to present enough evidence for the American public to believe whatever conclusion your committee comes to and do you think you need to release more information to be able to give them confidence in your findings?
SCHIFF: Well I think we ought to declassify as much as we possibly can so that the country is in possession of the full facts. One of the challenges that we’re going to have, which I’ve raised now with the Department of Justice but also written about, is that there is not a free flow of information between our investigation and Bob Mueller and his office.
There is some effort at coordination where we are doing everything we can not to get in their way and not to interfere in any way unintentionally, not to take any steps like the granting of immunity that would have a consequence in terms of what they can do. But it may very well be that there are pieces of this puzzle that Bob Muller discovers by virtue of a very capable team that he’s assembled, by virtue of the fact that he has the subpoena power — he doesn’t have to go hat in hand to a Republican chair to get a subpoena the way we do. And the question is, will that be shared either with the public or with the congressional investigative committees. And neither is particularly clear. We do know from the memo that Rod Rosenstein wrote justifying the firing of James Comey, which was used as a pretext, that he doesn’t believe that investigators should be talking about even an open or closed investigation. Bob Mueller works for Rod Rosenstein and so my guess is that the only talking that Bob Mueller is going to be allowed to do about what he finds will be in the form of an indictment or the evidence that’s introduced to trial. So will we be able to give the country a full picture that has the benefit of what not only we discover but what Bob Mueller discovers? And that is an open question that concerns me a great deal, because the worst thing we could do, I think, is give a wrong or incomplete picture of the country when there is in fact other evidence that we should share but don’t have possession of.
AP: You said you don’t have a lot of clarity on Bob Mueller’s investigation. What does it look like, day to day, your communication with his investigation? Do you know when he’s talking to people? Did you know that the Manafort and Gates indictments were coming down?
SCHIFF: We did not know that the indictments were coming down or that Papadopoulos had plead to a criminal information. We certainly did know of Papadopoulos and we wanted to interview him and he was very much on our radar screen. But I don’t know that it would be appropriate for them to give us a heads up of those kind of events. The kind of interactions we have are: Here are people that we’re going to be bringing in. Do you have any concerns about the timing in which we would bring them in? And we’re not going to uniformly defer to the special counsel because we have an important responsibility as well and our responsibility is to make a full accounting to the public and to figure out what ought to be done to protect the country. But we do want to stay out of its way. And so there are, you know, negotiations from time to time over how we handle witnesses or when we handle witnesses. But it’s not as if we get a download of what he is learning and we give him a download of … (CROSSTALK)
AP: You’re not giving him downloads on your information either?
SCHIFF: You know we are giving him some information that we think it’s important for him to have. I think, you know, for my part if, I’m not going to comment one way or the other if this is the case, but if we discover evidence that we think is criminal in nature, that, I think, we need to share with the special counsel so the special counsel can determine … (CROSSTALK)
AP: Have you done that so far?
SCHIFF: I’m not going to comment on that.
AP: I had to try. Tom?
AP: Congressman, I wanted to ask you about the return of Devin Nunes, his resurgence and about this joint investigation he is conducting with Trey Gowdy on Clinton and Uranium One, but not specifically on Nunes and Gowdy. I am curious if you think House Speaker Paul Ryan is being a good faith actor here?
SCHIFF: Well I don’t think that you could possibly have the announcement of these new investigations, multi-committee investigations into Uranium One, new investigation into the Hillary Clinton emails and how those investigations were handled without getting the approval of the speaker. So, no. I think the speaker, ultimately the buck stops with him and whatever he is allowing, he is blessing. In this case what he is blessing is an effort which was I think orchestrated by the White House and its external allies to distract from the Russia probe to basically give content to the president’s Twitter urging that the Republicans investigate his vanquished political rival.
And this is disturbing at many levels. It’s disturbing that the White House would weigh in with the Justice Department as they evidently did to get them to take action, in this case lift a gag order so that an investigation of his political opponent could go forward. That gave them the grist for the mill. And we see this in emerging democracies. I used to serve on the House Democracy Assistance Commission where we would meet with emerging democracies and we would impress upon them that you do not try to jail your opponent after you win an election. You don’t try to persecute, by distorting the justice system, your vanquished rival. Well, that’s what we see going on.
You know, for a president …
AP: Do you think that’s really what’s going on or do you think that that is a political strategy by the president more than an attempt at actual action?
SCHIFF: Oh, well, it’s I think clearly both, both an effort to distract but also in an effort to prosecute his former opponent.
AP: You think he actually wants to prosecute Hillary Clinton?
SCHIFF: Oh, I think he would absolutely want to prosecute Hillary Clinton. Absolutely. Now how pliant the Congress will be, how pliant the Justice Department will be, is an open question. I would hope that the Justice Department would do its job and resist improper interference by the White House. But they did not resist, apparently, the president’s urging that they lift the gag rule. And it’s hard to imagine that that would have happened in the absence of presidential intervention. So that’s already a problem.
But I think the speaker unquestionably had to be involved in this effort to placate the president and distract from his problems. You know the other thing that I think we need to pay attention to in all this is that this intervention with the Justice Department is not in isolation. The administration is also, as you have reported, interviewing candidates for U.S. attorney in New York and Washington, D.C., but not interviewing candidates in California or Minnesota or Texas — only in those areas where the president and his family and organization may be exposed to legal liability. That is a horrible conflict of interest. The person they nominated to run the criminal division of the Justice Department just happens to be the lawyer for the Russian Alfa Bank that was in communication with Trump Tower, which is the subject of our investigation. (He) was also involved in litigating against the publication by BuzzFeed of the dossier. These are people with direct conflicts of interest and in the case of the guy nominated for Justice, in your face kind of conflict of interest. And what we’re seeing is a slow undoing of our system of checks and balances. And for a president, I have to say, who on almost a daily basis reminds us that he is capable of saying things that are patently, demonstrably untrue, in other ways he’s very transparent. And on the eve of these indictments, when there were just reports that there had been indictments, the president tweets at the Congress: “Republicans” and then all in caps “DO SOMETHING!” It’s like, “Help me! People near me are about to be indicted, Republicans in Congress do something!
And sadly, in terms of our system of checks and balances, they do. They announced they’re investigating Hillary Clinton and two new investigations. And so we are back in Benghazi again, brought to us by the same people who brought us the first Benghazi investigation. The Benghazi investigation, I was forced to suffer two years on that select committee, was about proving that Hillary Clinton had interfered with security at the facility in Benghazi, causing the death of Americans. Now, there was never any truth to that, but we were the committee in search of proving that. And we spent two years and $7 million trying to prove an untruth. Well now we have a new untruth apparently to prove and that is we need to prove that Hillary Clinton personally intervened to allow this uranium deal to get the approval of this multi-agency committee called CFIUS.
Now we’re going to spend hundreds of thousands, maybe a million dollars, and lots of time and attention and lots of headlines searching for that. And so Benghazi has now given birth to another partisan political investigation. And that’s a terrible tragedy.
AP: I wake up some days feeling like we’re still in 2016. We can’t move on. Mary Clare has been keeping track of our Facebook questions. What do you have, Mary Clare?
AP: We have a Facebook question from John in Minnesota and he asks, “Will the committee take steps to prevent any attempt to sideline the special counsel?” I think he’s talking about a couple of Senate bills that are out there that would, if passed, put some checks in place to try to prevent Trump from firing Mueller. Do you see any similar efforts in the House?
SCHIFF: Well you know there are some efforts in the House and there’s a House version of the Tillis legislation in the Senate that that’s designed, I think, to at least provide an appeal should special counsel be fired.
The most important thing I think that we can do right now is speak out on a very bipartisan basis that the president needs to leave Bob Mueller alone and finish his work. And I think that’s the most important because we don’t want to wait until there’s a constitutional crisis. We need the White House to get the message now that there will be a dramatic pushback should he try to fire Bob Mueller. These bills are helpful. The more people that sponsor the bills, the more helpful, particularly among the GOP. I don’t expect our committee, per se, to do very much, but others in the Congress are doing things.
And I wish I saw more of it in the House of Representatives. Frankly, most of the political courage we’re seeing is coming out of the Senate from people like John McCain and Lindsey Graham and Bob Corker and Jeff Flake. The House has been pretty mute. And I wonder why that is, why there’s not a single House Republican who feels they have a constituency to be the John McCain of the House.
AP: Why do you think that is?
SCHIFF: I don’t know.
AP: I’m sure you have some thoughts on it.
SCHIFF: I mean people, GOP members, will tell you privately their misgivings about the president and what a difficult position that puts them in. Frankly I have no sympathy. I don’t want to hear people’s private misgivings. People need to talk publicly and show some courage. And I think we’re all going to be held to account one day for what we did when our democracy was under threat.
AP: Do you feel like our democracy is under threat right now?
SCHIFF: I do. I do feel our democracy is under threat. There’s the challenge from without — that is the Russian challenge. They’re going after liberal democracies around the world. But in many respects the threat from within is more serious because we have a president who takes issue with the First Amendment and describes the free press as an enemy of the people. And people in very top levels of the Republican leadership who are unwilling to challenge that. You have a president saying that our justice system is a joke and a laughing stock. That judges who rule against him are only so-called judges, they’re not legitimate judges. We’re, you know, we’re banning people from coming into the country on the basis of their faith. We’re allowing the president to pick his prosecutors in New York and Washington, D.C. We’re appointing people with patent conflicts of interest. We’re shelling, we’re hollowing out whole agencies. We’re appointing people that have no experience for the job who are antagonistic to the mission of the agencies. We are tearing down our government from within. That is a serious problem and in many respects far more grave a threat to the country than anything coming from outside the country.
AP: The president has been insistent that he personally is not under investigation by Bob Mueller. Is your committee investigating the president himself?
SCHIFF: Well, first of all in terms of Bob Mueller, I can’t comment on whether the president is right or wrong about that. I can’t comment one way or the other. In terms of our own committee, we’re not investigating people per se. We have no prosecutorial discretion. It’s our mandate to give a full accounting to the public of what the Russians did and how they did it and what U.S. persons were involved and the degree the U.S. persons were involved. No one is off the table.
AP: Including the president?
SCHIFF: Including the president. And you know, to be perfectly candid, the president during the campaign was calling on the Russians to hack or find Hillary Clinton’s emails and saying they would be richly rewarded, was trumpeting every WikiLeaks disclosure of these stolen emails. He was doing this quite openly, quite overtly. A lot of what we’re doing in the investigation is trying to find out, was the campaign doing covertly that which the president was calling for overtly? But we can’t ignore the fact the president was calling for this overtly. And to whatever degree collaboration or collusion with the Russians — whether it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and is the subject a criminal indictment or not — it ought to be the subject of opprobrium by all Americans. All patriotic Americans ought to condemn what the Russians did but also the degree to which the Trump campaign was willing to profit from that crime.
AP: So that sounds like a yes. It sounds like your committee is investigating the president’s role, both in what happened last year and some of what we have seen this year.
SCHIFF: You know we’re certainly investigating anyone and everyone affiliated with the Trump campaign and the interactions they had with the Russians, the degree to which they utilized the ill-gotten gains from the Russians. Now I also think that we ought to be, in our committee, looking at the obstruction of justice issue.
AP: Are you?
SCHIFF: Well, we are, some of us. On the majority side of the aisle they’re not interested in pursuing that. Interestingly, they are interested in pursuing the DNC and all the rest of that, but with respect to whether our investigation and that of Bob Mueller has been obstructed, there are only certain members of our committee that are willing to look at that.
AP: I think one of the most fascinating dynamics that’s emerged this year has been some of the discussion in Washington around the tech companies — Facebook, Twitter — their role in the election. I know we’ve got a couple of questions from the audience on that front. Jake?
AP: You’ve talked a lot about the Facebook ads, the divisive political ads that were released and counsel for some of the tech giants were brought in to testify. Recently, given how many people, tens of millions, use Facebook for everything from getting their news to commerce to what have you, at what point do you, as a lawmaker, and your colleagues decide they should be regulated like a utility? Is that a conversation that is happening anywhere and what’s your position on it?
SCHIFF: I think we can say, at this point, we know there’s going to be some regulation and probably the lowest hanging fruit is we’re going to require that the tech companies when they do political advertising carry the same kind of disclaimer that other media are required to carry. So a paid ad on Facebook is going to need to disclose that it was paid for by what campaign and the candidate endorses the message. They were a carve-out; they’re not going to be carved out anymore. Now we’ll need to try to figure out what does that look like in a media where different platforms have very different requirements. In a platform like Twitter where you have 140 characters, what does it mean to have a disclaimer? So I think the method of the disclaimer will be the subject of discussion. But the fact that they will be required to, I think, is inevitable and indeed many of the companies are already adopting these policies in advance of being required to do it.
The much tougher questions, though, are much more difficult to regulate. And I think we need to do a lot more oversight before we even figure out is there a regulatory role here. And that goes to the fact that a lot of the content that was pushed — probably far more significant during the campaign than the paid advertising was the organic content, were the establishment of fake pages that drew lots of followers — the effort to amplify either fake news or amplify real news that was derogatory of only one candidate as a way of influencing the election. How do you get at that? And then even more broadly, what do we do, if anything, about the fact that the algorithms that are used to capture our attention on these platforms are not ones that are such that the truth or falsity is the top priority of what shows up in our field. They’re not sorted on that basis. They’re sorted on the basis of what will get us to spend the most time on that platform. Now that may be things that are very divisive or things that get us angry or make us fearful. They also may be things that reinforce the views we already have. So am I going to stay on Twitter as long if the social media feed that comes to the top of my screen are things that I really don’t want to read? Maybe because they’re talking about how great Donald Trump is or how bad the Democratic Party is or whatnot.
If they show me things that I do want to read, that reinforce views that I may already have, what does that do in terms of Balkanizing the population? We’re not going to legislate an algorithm. So what is our role and how much of a role is on the companies to understand the societal impacts of what they do and how they structured their platforms and algorithms they use? Algorithms that are designed to maximize advertising revenue may also be socially destructive. And there aren’t going to be easy questions to this. The question of whether RT should be allowed to advertise itself is a tough question. And there are lots of questions that are going to be much harder than that one. So I can’t tell you beyond the political advertising what role Congress ought to have on regulation, but I think that there are many other committees apart from Intel that really out to be looking at this.
One of the questions I asked during the hearing, you know I prefaced by saying this goes well beyond Russia. Russia exploited the fact that divisive news or news that makes you fearful, angry tends to become the most viral. But what about the non-Russia aspect of this? Quite separate and apart from foreign use of these platforms, we may be dividing ourselves even more because of the way we get our information now. Do you recognize that phenomenon as happening and what is your responsibility to deal with it? And I think the testimony was that the jury was out whether it had that effect now. I don’t know whether the jury’s really out on that. We don’t, I think, as a government have really good information about that. But I do think it’s something we need to find out.
AP: I’m going to try to squeeze in a couple more questions on the tech companies: Eric, Brad and then Ned here.
AP: Just to follow up on exactly what you were saying, it was striking to some of us that some of the Facebook ads that were released last week were actually, or appeared to be, anti-Trump messages. In light of that I’m wondering, do you believe that the primary purpose of the Facebook social meddling and the Twitter social meddling was aimed at getting Donald Trump elected president or do you see a broader purpose sowing anger, discord and confusion in the American political process, irrespective of the actual candidate?
SCHIFF: They had both purposes in mind and in this respect the intelligence community and unclassified assessment that they issued in January got it exactly right. The Russians wanted to help Trump, they wanted to hurt Clinton and they wanted to sow discord. And you can see all of that in these ads. The Twitter ads, which took the form of promoted RT tweets, are almost uniformly, to the extent they have a political slant, anti-Clinton.
So the stories that the Kremlin wanted you to see, as an American voter during the election, where Hillary Clinton’s failing health, the four times the Clintons were almost indicted. There were all — Bernie Sanders supporters’ dissatisfaction with Clinton. Those were the kind of stories they wanted Americans to read. On Facebook, a lot of the ads were designed to sow discord, but also, they’re only neutral on their face, or they may only appear anti-Trump on their face. The key question is how were they targeted? So for example, you could say a “Muslims for Hillary” ad in which Hillary is seen embracing a Muslim woman was a pro-Hillary, anti-Trump ad. But if this was targeted towards people who had searched for either “radical Islamic terror” or “Muslim brotherhood,” this was not intended to be a pro-Clinton ad. And I think when you look at the targeting information you can see that, no, almost all of these, to the degree they were intended to have a political effect, were designed to undermine Clinton and help Trump. But the broader picture is also true, which is they also sought to weaken us by growing our divisions.
And the fact that the Russians appear to be continuing the campaign postelection — exploiting the NFL issue that the president has stoked — is further indication of that quite separate and apart from helping a presidential candidate or hurting another. The Russians see a real benefit to simply weakening us from within by exploiting these divisions.
AP: What more do you think could be learned from the tech companies themselves about possible communication, connection, collusion between the campaign and those Russian agents who were trying to influence our country in the ways you described?
SCHIFF: Well, the way I look at this is the Russians did an independent expenditure campaign on behalf of Donald Trump. So they did paid advertising. They pushed social media content designed to help Trump. If this were a purely domestic situation and instead of the Russian government it was a private party or a private PAC, the question you would ask is, “Did that independent expenditure in fact coordinate with the campaign in violation of law?” It’s a very analogous question here. Was there any level of coordination in the independent expenditure, in the allegedly independent expenditure, by the Russians? Was there any coordination with the Trump campaign? One of the things that the social media companies may be able to help us figure out is, was that targeting in any way sufficiently specific and overlapping that it would be unlikely to happen if the Russians, if this so-called independent expenditure campaign, didn’t have input from Cambridge Analytica or from the campaign itself? Were the messages so similar that it’s implausible that they could have been done, that that could have been happenstance. Or is this simply a situation where it’s pretty easy to tell what states are in play and what aren’t. Even a not very sophisticated observer could tell certain states are going to be in play and others not. The Russians didn’t need to get messaging information from the campaign because they could simply look at the ads that the Trump campaign themselves were doing on social media and mimic those.
So I think the companies can help us somewhat. We’re obviously looking at these issues ourselves. I did ask the companies if they would be willing to work together to prepare a joint report to the Congress about what they’ve found. Because it may very well be that on Facebook they pushed certain content and when people liked their pages, the heart of Texas page, they then became part of the audience for targeting on other social media and in ways that we may not be able to see, both because we don’t have the resources and we don’t have the technical skills they do.
They were noncommittal in terms of whether they’d be willing to do that, but we’re going to continue to press them because I think that would be enormously valuable, quite separate apart from whether they’re able to draw connections between the Trump advertising, which I think is no longer online so it is hard for us to historically go through, and figure out what ads were running and where they were running and how similar were they to the Russian ads and how similar was the targeting. If they can help us with that as well, obviously that would be enormously important.
AP: Are you still in an ongoing discussion with the tech companies?
AP: I’m going to squeeze one more question in here before the congressman’s staff bursts through the door and tries to take him out of the chair. Ned, in the back:
AP: I’ve got a question about the relationship between candidate Donald Trump and Paul Manafort. Obviously Paul Manafort has been in the news quite a bit in the last week or so. How close was Donald Trump to Paul Manafort before Manafort became campaign manager? And is it believable at all that Manafort would be getting a memo from George Papadopolous or participating in a meeting with Russians inside Trump Tower without candidate Trump knowing about it?
SCHIFF: Well, I’m not sure that I can give you the length and breadth at this point of the president’s relationship with Manafort either prior or during the campaign. But I do think that one very significant thing about Manafort is, this is obviously not a peripheral player. They can downplay George Papadopolous, they can downplay Carter Page, hard to downplay the campaign manager. He also takes this meeting at Trump Tower on the promise of dirt. And to the degree you can believe what people in the meeting are saying about it or said publicly about it, if there was any disappointment on the Trump campaign part, it was that they didn’t get better dirt on Hillary Clinton. But they clearly were willing to accept it from the Russian government. And it was portrayed as part of the Russian government’s effort to help Donald Trump in the campaign.
It’s also been reported in The Washington Post and I can only talk about the public report that Manafort was reaching out to Oleg Deripaska while he was campaign manager, offering information about the campaign he’s running in an effort to collect more of the money from Ukraine that he was laundering. And this is very significant because you have Manafort reaching out — if these allegations are correct — to the Kremlin essentially by reaching out to oligarchs close to the Kremlin, offering information in exchange for money. And you have the Kremlin reaching out to Manafort, Kushner and the president’s son at the same time offering information on Hillary Clinton in exchange for help with sanctions. And those communications are running in opposite directions contemporaneously. Any intelligence agency worth their salt is going to put these things together. And the Russians have very competent intelligence agencies. So it’s one issue about the degree to which these are being orchestrated by Russian intel. It’s another about how aware Russian intel is. And it’s another in terms of what actions the Russians concluded they would take on the basis of this outreach and this evident willingness passively to accept a meeting, aggressively to seek out a meeting with the object of exchanging information of value, to obtain something of value, so that I think is the significance of the matter for us.
AP: We could probably keep this conversation going all day but we will wrap it there. Thank you very much for joining us today, really appreciate it. And thank you for tuning in for AP Newsmakers. Have a great day.